MOREHEAD The newest learning tool at Rowan County Senior High School looks like something that should be on the back of a tractor-trailer truck.
AppHarvest, a Lexington company, has donated a 40-foot-long container farm the school will use to grow crops ranging from lettuce and eventually tomatoes, other leafy greens and herbs.
“It can grow up to the equivalency of three and a half to four acres of greens that three and a half to four acres would do,” said Brad McKinney, who teaches agriculture at Rowan County. “We haven’t had a greenhouse. We’ve taught animal science pathways and ag farm machinery pathways.
“It’s going to be used to teach entrepreneurship, it’s gonna be used for agri-science fairs, it’s gonna be used to … teach (students) about food safety, sanitation, teach them about marketing a product, also to teach about sustainability, sustainable agriculture.”
Rowan County is the second Kentucky high school to receive a container farm. Shelby Valley High School, near Pikeville, is the other.
The veggies will be grown hydroponically — a $10 word for raising crops with high-power lights and without soil. Instead, nutrient-rich irrigation water flows through the setup.
Cheryl Kaiser and Matt Ernst of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Crop Diversification have written that lettuce is one of the most commonly grown hydroponic vegetables.
“Well or county water is almost always used for hydroponic lettuce production, as surface water may increase risk for diseases,” Kaiser and Ernst wrote. “Overly chlorinated city water can cause problems in lettuce production.
“It is recommended that growers submit their start water to an analytical laboratory for analysis. It will help them to better develop a nutrient management plan for their crop. … The most common types of lettuce grown hydroponically are looseleaf, butterhead and romaine. Leafy greens, sometimes used to complement a lettuce selection, include bok choy, spinach and Swiss chard.”
McKinney wishes he knew how many students will be down on the container farm.
“I'm still learning how to use it,” he said.